[Thirty-year law enforcement veteran Chuck] Drago and [former police commissioner Peter] Keane both believe that the existence of rogue informants for SFPD's specialized Gang Task Force and Narcotics Bureau indicates serious flaws in the department's internal checks and balances. (The SFPD's Narcotics Bureau, Gang Task Force, and Media Relations Office wouldn't comment on the department's handling of violent informants for this story.) "Somebody is dropping the ball in management," says Drago. "SFPD have let loose an unguided missile on the public" by allowing dangerous men like Sandoval (and, as we'll see, at least one other) to stay at large in spite of their offenses, says Keane. "No modern police force with any professionalism engages in that sort of practice anymore."
Filed in Drug-relatedPermalink
Participant Media has created a great public information site to accompany the movie, with stats and stories about the drug war, mandatory minimums, and informants. Check it out: www.TakePart.com/SNITCH. They've also made a hilarious mini-video about the crazy world of the war on drugs. Watch it here: SNITCH: Lock it Down America!
In January, Washington State Senator Adam Kline introduced legislation, SB 5373, that would regulate the use of drug informants like Jeremy. The bill would ban the use of informants who are 16 years old and under, require police to tell informants about their obligations and potential rewards in writing, and establish new accountability mechanisms for keeping track of informant use. It's an important bill, particularly the restriction on using juvenile informants which few states currently have.
A similar pay-for-information scheme was discovered in a federal prison in Louisiana, after Ann Colomb and her three sons were wrongfully convicted based on the testimony of dozens of snitch inmates. See this post: Professional Prison Snitch Ring.
Filed in Jailhouse InformantsPermalink
Their convictions were based on the perjured testimony of criminal informant Matthew Dunham, a convicted robber who received a 17-month sentence in exchange for his testimony. Another co-defendant later admitted that he and Dunham had fabricated their testimony against Larson, Gassman and Statler.
This is an important case for a number of reasons. First, it is extraordinarily difficult to challenge convictions after the fact, even where new evidence demonstrates innocence. A judge had previously denied the defendants' motion for a new trial after it was discovered that Dunham had lied, so the fact that the parties persevered and a court ruled in their favor makes this case uncommon.
Second, the case highlights how the lack of financial support for public defense in this country leads to miscarriages of justice. The attorneys representing the Spokane defendants were paid the paltry sum of $1,400 per case for cases that required hundreds of hours of investigation and preparation. Low attorney fees for complex cases are pervasive in many states, and they mean that even skilled well-meaning attorneys do not have the resources to defend such cases properly. For an indepth report on the phenomenon, see this U.S. Department of Justice Report: Contracting for Indigent Defense Services: A Special Report (April 2000).
Finally, it took years of work on the part of the Innocence Project and the families to bring about this reversal. The Statler family's efforts were extraordinary: as a result of their persistence, a Washington state legislator introduced a bill that would reduce the risks of informant use and future wrongful convictions. Such efforts were necessary because the criminal system does not have good internal mechanisms to protect defendants from lying informants--wrongful convictions are difficult to unearth and even harder to fix. As happens all too often, the legal system finally came to the right result in this case only because the families refused to give up.
Filed in InnocencePermalink
Ms. George also became a prime example of how informing, or in federal parlance, providing "substantial assistance" to the government, can turn the justice system upside down. Ms. George's boyfriend--a cocaine dealer and ringleader--and other members of the drug ring received lower sentences than she did because they became informants. Because Ms. George had no information, she couldn't snitch and therefore U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson had no discretion to lower her sentence, a sentence that the judge himself considered draconian and unfair. From the story:
"[Stephanie George] was not a major participant by any means, but the problem in these cases is that the people who can offer the most help to the government are the most culpable," Judge Vinson said recently. "So they get reduced sentences while the small fry, the little workers who don't have that information, get the mandatory sentences."Judge Vinson's comment reflects an intentional design feature of federal drug law. Because becoming an informant is the only way a defendant can avoid harsh mandatory minimums, snitching has become pervasive in the federal criminal system.
Filed in Drug-relatedPermalink
Such programs are made possible by federal forfeiture law, under which police departments can keep a percentage of seized assets. Because the legal standards for forfeiture are lower than for a criminal case, police can seize money and assets without having to prove anyone guilty. For a great overview of forfeiture law and its reliance on informants, see Radley Balko's article in Reason Magazine, The Forfeiture Racket. See also this report from the Institute for Justice: Policing for Profit.
NACDL is pleased to offer, as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that profile the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the collateral consequences of conviction. The 54 jurisdictional profiles include provisions on loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges, legal mechanisms for overcoming or mitigating collateral consequences, and provisions addressing non-discrimination in employment and licensing. In addition to the full profiles, there is a set of charts covering all 50 states (plus territories and the federal system) that provide a side-by-side comparison and make it possible to see national patterns in restoration laws and policies. The information covered by the charts is summarized on the page for each jurisdiction. These materials will be an enormous aid to lawyers in minimizing the collateral consequences suffered by clients and in restoring their rights and status.
Filed in General Criminal JusticePermalink
Professional informants are paid by law enforcement to infiltrate criminal or extremist circles, sometimes on a full-time basis. Yet they're not considered employees of the government and are not subject to the same rules. From warrantless searches to sex with targets to constructing terrorist plots out of thin air, the informant problem is not new, but this powerful investigative tool is under pressure like never before after being exposed to the harsh light of day in a series of recent terrorism trials. Growing media scrutiny and a pending civil lawsuit in California are aggressively challenging whether the benefits of aggressive informant tactics outweigh the risk to civil liberties and are raising troubling questions about the legitimacy of terrorism investigations.
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